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Shooting of 4 College Friends Baffles Newark

August 6, 2007
Shooting of 4 College Friends Baffles Newark

NEWARK, Aug. 5 â€" The authorities were struggling to explain one of Newark’s most chilling slaughters in recent memory after three young friends were lined up against a schoolyard wall and shot dead late Saturday. A fourth person survived a gunshot.

“This appears to have been an execution-style type of murder,†Paul M. Loriquet, a spokesman for the Essex County prosecutor, Paula T. Dow, said on Sunday.

Investigators had no suspects and seemed to have few clues about what unfolded at the schoolyard, which is near the tip of Ivy Hill Park in a neighborhood of tree-hemmed streets speckled with modest homes and brick high-rises.

At a news conference on Sunday, Ms. Dow said the victims were “good kids†who had never had any run-ins with the law. Three of the victims â€" the survivor, Natasha Aeriel, 19; her 18-year-old brother, Terrance Aeriel; and Deshawn Harvey â€" were enrolled at Delaware State University. The fourth victim, Ofemi Hightower, 20, a close friend of the Aeriels, was going to start classes at Delaware State this fall. All four lived in the Newark area.

“They had a goal, they had a purpose, they had a destination in life,†said the Aeriels’ mother, Renee Tucker.

Although overall crime has dropped in Newark this year, the city has been on a murder streak. Sixty people have been killed, including a man, Quintez Waller, who was shot dead about 8:30 a.m. on Sunday in apparent retaliation for an attempt on another person’s life earlier in the morning, the authorities said. They did not believe that murder was related to the schoolyard shootings.

Last year at this time, 63 people had been killed as the city headed toward 105 homicides, its highest total since the crack epidemic of the early 1990s.

“These kids were success stories,†Mayor Cory A. Booker said. The mayor, who has called public safety a top priority of his administration, called the killings “a tragic outburst†of violence.

His police director, Garry F. McCarthy, said in a statement, “While we are making progress on public safety over all, we know it is not enough.†He cited a decline of 30 percent in the number of shootings this year and a 16 percent decrease in violent crimes, but added, “more needs to be done.â€

The authorities do not believe the shootings were related to drugs or a robbery attempt, but said they were investigating whether they could be connected to gang activity. They would not elaborate.

Ms. Tucker said she called her daughter about 9:45 p.m. on Saturday and asked if she could bring home some food. The siblings, accompanied by Ms. Hightower and Mr. Harvey, arrived at Ms. Tucker’s house on Richelieu Terrace about a half-hour later, but left after Ms. Aeriel spent a few minutes on the computer, Ms. Tucker said.

“They said they were going to get something to eat,†she added. “Someone must have lured them†to the school.

About 11:30 p.m., the four friends were in the schoolyard of the Mount Vernon School, an elementary school, “listening to music and hanging out†there when they were approached by the killers, Ms. Dow said at the news conference.

Mr. Aeriel, Mr. Harvey and Ms. Hightower were lined up against a wall near a set of bleachers perched at the edge of the schoolyard. They were shot in the head. All three were pronounced dead at the scene.

Ms. Aeriel was standing 30 feet away from the wall when she was shot near an ear, the authorities said. She was listed in fair condition at University Hospital last night, said Rogers Ramsey, a hospital spokesman.

Mumtaz Khan, 67, who lives near the school, said he heard no more than five shots, fired in rapid succession. Michael Moss, 16, who also lives nearby, said he dashed to the school just after he heard about the shooting through a friend’s phone call. He spotted the bodies, already draped in white sheets, lying by the bleachers on the edge of the schoolyard.

Some residents told detectives that they saw a group of men running from the school just after hearing the shots, but no one saw their faces or knew exactly how many there were, Mr. Loriquet said.

Witness intimidation and fear of retaliation has stymied law enforcement efforts to combat violence in communities across Essex County, and particularly in Newark, where drug trading and gangs fuel most of the crimes. Ms. Dow’s office has been reluctant to file murder charges in cases with single eyewitnesses because so many of those cases have fallen apart.

One potential witness is the survivor, Ms. Aeriel. Her recovering “is a huge piece of the puzzle,†Mr. Loriquet said. “She could help us shed some light on this.â€

Ms. Dow said the police had talked to Ms. Aeriel at the hospital and planned to talk to her again once her condition improves. The Essex County Sheriff’s Department is offering a $20,000 reward for anyone with information that could lead to an arrest, and the Newark Police Department Crime Stoppers program is offering $2,000.

Ms. Hightower and the Aeriels grew up in the Vailsburg section of Newark, the neighborhood where the shootings took place. They attended West Side High School and were all members of its band. Ms. Aeriel played the saxophone; Mr. Aeriel, who used to spend hours each day reading the Bible, played the trombone; and Ms. Hightower, who always had a smile on her face, Ms. Tucker said, was the drum captain.

Ms. Aeriel, a junior in college, is pursuing a degree in psychology. She traveled to Newark for the weekend and planned to return to Delaware on Monday, to her job at a Subway shop in Dover. Mr. Aeriel, who was about to start his freshman year, planned to join Delaware State’s business-administration program, Ms. Tucker said.

Ms. Hightower’s cousin, Coby Hightower, 23, said Ms. Hightower was working two jobs â€" at a nursing home and at a food-services provider for Continental Airlines at Newark Liberty International Airport. She received her acceptance letter from Delaware State on Thursday. “She kept talking about working and going to school,†he said. “She was so excited.†Mr. Hightower, who wept as he stood outside the school on Mount Vernon Place, said his cousin was planning to share a room at Delaware State with Ms. Aeriel, her best friend.

Mayor Booker spoke with the victims’ families and offered his condolences.

“I’m very angry right now,†he said afterthe news conference. “We were on our way to having one of our best summers in years. Now, this incident casts a shadow over it.â€

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I wont bother to disrespect the dead by seizing the opportunity to criticize the laws of NJ and laying the fault for the deaths of these three young people at its feet.

However, a familiar aspect of this story is the intimidation that citizens feel when the suspects responsible for senseless crimes, such as this, remain unapprehended in an environment where the law abiding are not permitted to own guns for personal protection. Law Enforcement receive far less cooperation than they need, and citizens seldomly give the information that they may have about an incident, for fear that they'll be the next target of the gangstas.

A victim-rich environment where the good people suffer defenseless is a major contributor to the low conviction rate of inner-city homicides. How can LE make an arrest at the end of an investigation when they have no leads and no physical evidence? The cops know that the people on the street know the details of many of the crimes but are afraid to talk. You can't welcome out of town guests into your home without eveyone knowing you have company in the hood. When someone is killed, the taking spreads immediately like wildfire. People openly discuss who did it, and why, and hash it out freely within their social groups. But all that comes to a halt, unfortunately, when the police come into the picture. There is simply too much distrust between LE and the community to facilitate a meaningful partnership to combat crime. And that is just what is needed to take the streets back from these punks.

It was especially true in Boston. And in the various cities in upstate NY where I've lived.

One other thing: how insensitive can the mayor be to be outraged not over the horrific loss of life that came about during this unconscionable act but as a result of spoiled political ambitions for the city?

I would rake his a$$ all over the coals if I was unfortunate enough to live in that hellhole of a city.

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This is the kind of crap that happens in a victim-rich environment where all but the criminals are disarmed. Shame on City Hall.

You can bet that everyone in Dorchester knows who the first shooter was, as well as the second. But they are fearful of suffering the same fate.

This is just awful. [Boston] Mayor Menino will respond by calling for stricter laws on lawful gun ownership, for sure. He's such an ass.

Fatal shooting leaves friends at a loss

By Maria Cramer, Boston Globe Staff | August 6, 2007

Danielle Grady was devastated by the fatal shooting last month of her 41-year-old boyfriend. Over the weekend, to help her forget her grief for one night, two friends took her to a club in Mattapan.

As the three women drove home early Saturday, Grady wept over Jeffrey Jones, who was killed after a party July 12.

" 'Everything is going to be OK. Don't worry. It's going to take time to heal,' " Grady's friend and neighbor recalled telling her as they drove back to Dunkeld Street in Dorchester about 3:15 a.m.

As they parked, a tall, thin man in red pants walked from an alley, strode to the Mazda, and fired at least six shots at Grady, who was sitting in the back seat. The man, who wore a dark hooded top pulled tight over his face, then fled through the alley toward Fayston Street, according to police reports. Grady was pronounced dead at the scene.

The attack was almost identical to the shooting that claimed Jones: A gunman had walked up and shot him and another man as they sat in a small, white car on Shandon Road after a large party in the basketball court of a Franklin Hill public housing complex.

"I'm still shocked," Grady's friend said yesterday by phone. "I can't believe it's happened."

The woman's name is being withheld by the Globe because she is a witness to the shooting.

Grady, who had just turned 30, had a 7-year-old son and no known enemies, the friend said.

Police said yesterday they could not comment on whether Grady's shooting was connected to Jones, who was shot 2 miles away.

"It is standard procedure for investigators to review whether or not there is a link between recent homicides," said Elaine Driscoll, spokeswoman for the Boston Police Department. "However, in this particular case, we cannot comment specifically so as to not compromise the integrity of the investigation."

Hours after Grady was shot, police received a report that a knife-wielding man was chasing another man in his 40s on Itasca Street. By the time they arrived, the victim had been fatally stabbed.

Police arrested the alleged attacker, James Miskel, 42, of Dorchester, and charged him in the slaying. The victim, who was pronounced dead at Boston Medical Center, was not identified. Police said Miskel will probably be arraigned today.

The killing was the fifth slaying since Thursday. It brought the total number of homicides in the city to 45 as of yesterday, three less than at the same time last year.

Grady's friend said yesterday that while Grady did not fear anyone coming after her, she did not know if Grady's shooting was connected to Jones.

"There is just no way to know," the friend said. "She was a great mom. She was not related to any gang or street violence or anything like that. . . . She's not this trash that was shot in the middle of the street."

Jones was shot around 11 p.m., as he was putting his key in the ignition. Jarrid Campbell, 27, of Roxbury, who was sitting next to him in the car, was also killed. Police have made no arrests in the shootings.

Dozens of people who had been at the July 12 party were on the street at the time and scattered when the shots rang out. Grady was not there, the friend said.

"They killed an innocent person," said Grady's cousin, who did not give her name while mourning yesterday at the home of Grady's mother in Dorchester. "She didn't know anything."

The shooting horrified neighbors along Dunkeld Street, who called police and sent them text messages after they heard the shots and women screaming. Many asked the Globe not to identify them because they feared for their lives.

"I'm nerve-wracked," said one 21-year-old woman, who lives on Dunkeld and heard the shots from her bedroom. "I fear for mine and my daughter's life. I'm leaving here."

Yesterday, a makeshift memorial was set up outside the three-story, peach-colored apartment building where the shooting occurred. A photo taken in July of Grady, smiling in a white dress, was displayed in the middle of the memorial.

Neighbors described Grady as a friendly woman who spent most of her time with her son. One neighbor recalled seeing her walk down the street last week with the boy, lift him, and swing him around.

"They were just laughing," said the neighbor, who declined to give her name.

Grady's friend said that Grady, who was the oldest of five children and lived with her younger sister, had been looking for a job and was keeping busy by spending time with friends and family. But her grief over Jones's death often overcame her.

"We would be playing cards or something, and she would break down in tears," the friend said. "She was really hurting."
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